He said the security guard really ‘pushed his buttons’ when he confronted him yesterday at around 1pm and made his already high anxiety levels shoot up even further.
This was the sixth time this year he’s been refused service or challenged because of his Labrador Ziggy, having been turned away from an Indian restaurant just a few week ago. Richard told Metro.co.uk: ‘It was surreal, really surreal. He walked over to us and said “no animals allowed in.”
‘I said “you’re f***ing kidding me. You need to get your head around the law, he’s my assistance dog.’He says the security guard at Covent Garden store replied ‘I appreciate that’, before telling him his friend could carry on shopping if he waited outside with his dog.
Veterans with Dogs introduced Ziggy to Richard to help him deal with the long-lasting impact on his mental health since being deployed to Iraq in 2003. As a medic he was exposed to horrific casualties, both British and Iraqi, and he was eventually diagnosed with PTSD in 2009. Richard says his life was completely changed by Ziggy, who is trained to calm him down when he suffers from terrifying flashbacks.He says he probably wouldn’t be able to work as a civil servant in London if his loyal dog wasn’t there to create space around him and help him navigate the capital’s crowded streets.
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The charity provided Ziggy with a blue jacking bearing the message ‘I’m working please ignore me’ and a card showing his registration details.
Richard accepts there are so many different kinds of assistance dogs for different causes it’s difficult for shop staff to know everything there is to know.
He said it was ‘pretty damn obvious’ he had Ziggy for a good reason but still thinks some strengthening of the law is needed to make the lives of people like him a bit easier.The dad-of-one added: ‘The legislation is actually so grey, if you walk into a shop with a Chihuahua and say “It’s my assistance dog” they can’t refuse you by law under the Equality Act.
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‘Logically you’re not going to have a Chihuahua as an assistance dog.’
In the new year Richard hopes to start a campaign for a a central registration base for all assistance dogs, a regulated list of trainers and for local authorities to take responsibility over businesses and venues complying with the law.
He said a rating system similar to those used by restaurants and takeaways could be used to show how well shops accommodate for animals used by disabled people.
Richard added: ‘I know full well there are people who won’t go into shops for fear of being kicked out, and that shouldn’t happen.’
‘This is the sixth time this year I’ve been refused or challenged.
‘It’s embarrassing. It knocks my confidence it really does, and it also makes me feel a heightened level of anxiety.
‘It takes a lot for me to talk about mental health, it’s not an easy subject.
‘Yesterday I said I wanted to just give up. The reason I get challenged is because I push myself more, I refuse to let it bother me, I refuse to let it push my mental health back to the point where I wanted to kill myself.’
Richard, from Croydon, south London, says he’s taken Ziggy into Zara stores before with no issues so yesterday’s incident was ‘clearly a training issue’.
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He added: ‘They have a responsibility in my eyes, as a company, to make sure that their staff are aware of the law.’Since speaking out about yesterday’s ordeal a number of people on Twitter have said they won’t be shopping at Zara again.
But Richard said: ‘It’s not about boycotting them, it’s about kicking them up the arse and saying “get this right.”
‘This isn’t about litigation, this is about training, this is about self-awareness.’
The former serviceman says he has since spoken to someone from head office who apologised for the incident and said steps would be taken to prevent a repeat of yesterday’s incident.Metro.co.uk has contacted Zara for further comment.